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So a few of my friends who read the post “Written out of the Story” have been asking me how that issue resolved. This is just a follow up post.

The following section is for those coming new to the situation who don’t want to read the extremely LONG previous post. Those just looking for the follow up, feel free to skip to the next section.

Background

A friend and I had our books coming out at the same time and so we co-organized a book launch. We both put in the work, we were both equally featured and friends of both of ours came. BUT, when my friend’s publisher, Iguana Books, posted about the event on their blog, it became a solo event, organized exclusively by my friend, featuring only her book etc. I had been written out of the event completely and without a trace (to be clear, this was the publisher, not my friend, who did this).

I emailed them to let them know it was a co-launch, and that they had some of their FACTS wrong. I thought having wrong facts was a problem, particularly on your own website, where you have full control of the messaging. It affects a company’s credibility to intentionally misrepresent facts.

Their response (claiming it was my friend’s fault for not telling them it was a shared event–I actually saw the email my friend had sent with all the correct details–and further stating that they didn’t care that their facts were wrong) struck me as really problematic. I told them this–i.e. that it really bothered me that their first response was to (wrongly) blame the author–whether it was her fault or not, that just didn’t look good–and also that having incorrect facts on their site seemed problematic. Then I wrote the post and it went live, as I waited to hear back from Emily, the contact at Iguana.

The Follow-Up

Emily of Iguana Books ultimately did respond. I will summarize her response: “We have spent enough time discussing this. If you want to write a corrected version of the coverage, then do so and we will post it, otherwise, the subject is closed.” She didn’t address the fact that she had wrongly blamed my friend (much less did she apologise for that, at least in the email to which I was a party). She didn’t address the reputational issue of having inaccurate facts on the website–once more reinforcing the implication that she doesn’t really care, I gather.

I thought about this offer. But the thing is, as soon as I realised that it wasn’t just an oversight–that I’d been intentionally excluded because they didn’t want to mention names of any authors who weren’t paying them to publish their books, even if that meant intentionally misrepresenting facts (aka lying), two things happened:

1) I decided that if they expressed any kind of concern about incorrect facts and their desire to correct them, then I’d respect their policy. I’d respect the fact that yes, they do have discretion to promote their authors and not other authors. So, if they’d said they would change it to accurately reflect the facts, I would have conceded to their not mentioning me by name, and to the coverage being along the lines of “Vanessa Ricci-Thode, along with another local author, co-organized a book launch etc.” For me, this hasn’t really been about my name being on their site. It has been about accurate facts and the principle of it;

2) I started looking into other aspects of a publishing company that blames their paying customers when the publisher’s mistake is brought to their attention, and that won’t mention authors who haven’t paid them, even in the context of a public event that they did not organize nor have anything to do with.

My final conclusion was that this publisher raises a lot of red flags for me. There are a number of problematic practices I have seen, both in their treatment of this issue, their attitude towards my friend as a paying client as manifested by the blaming (is this how they’d be treating me if I signed with them and paid them to publish and promote my book?), and in the context of their contract (if you’re considering signing with them, I’d suggest you read the latter part of my original post for some of the issues you should be sure to satisfy yourself about before getting on board).

So, I decided that given all the above concerns, if they aren’t willing to do the correction themselves–the work of a few minutes for them–I’m not going to take the time to fix their wrong facts. It’s not really my job to make them look better because they can’t be bothered.

CAVEAT EMPTOR–aka Why I Wrote the Posts

These posts of mine aren’t about them leaving my name out of a thing on their blog. Whatever.

They’re about the concerns that their response to the omission raised for me. Their attitude towards accountability (blaming paying clients for their mistakes, not caring that facts are incorrect, etc.) worries me and raises questions about general attitudes towards accountability in the organization, as does their contract. The fact that they didn’t actually respond to, nor even acknowledge, those concerns when I expressed them makes it all the more worrying to me.

I wrote the posts because I feel that we authors and other creatives, tough though we are in so many ways, also have a vulnerability: we want people to read and to love our work. And so when an author hears that a publisher loves his or her work, and will publish it for a fee, there is scope for being taken advantage of.

I wrote these posts in the hopes that people thinking of signing with Iguana Books might find these comments of mine and understand that this is what I’ve witnessed of how they do business (and that’s all it is, ultimately. I have never worked with them, and so cannot comment on that). If I were looking for a publisher and got an offer from Iguana, I’d be doing my due diligence in searching for more information about them before signing–and I’d want to know about an incident like this one, anecdotal though it is, in order to factor it into my decision-making process.

There are legitimate service providers who use a similar model to Iguana–screening the books for quality, but then not bearing any risk and requiring up front payment for the publication. I do believe this, though I haven’t looked into it in detail. If, in talking with others who have signed with Iguana, or in asking probing questions of the publisher, an author is able to satisfy him- or herself that my concerns will not apply, then that’s that.

Nota Bene

In my original post, one of my concerns with the contract was that after charging the author an up-front fee (in the thousands of dollars) to cover all the costs for layout, cover art, publication etc. of the book, the contract stipulates that if the author terminates the contract, there is an additional $500 fee charged, if the author wants copies of all the files he or she has already paid for. Iguana now has a post on its blog explaining that this is “exactly what it says it is”, namely, a “fee to cover the staff time necessary to prepare the files an author will need to publish the book elsewhere”. They make it sound all so reasonable.

Alas, I do not find this altogether persuasive. Assuming an hourly rate of $50-$100 for very well paid staff, that’s five to ten hours of staff time.

So let’s break it down: if they have already published the book, then presumably the files will already exist in publication-ready format and would really just need to be copied onto a usb and sent to the author or transferred via ftp–unless they have a particularly cumbersome storage system, in which case they shouldn’t be charging clients for their inefficiencies, they should be optimizing their system.

So, assuming $50 for a USB (they’re cheaper than that, but someone has to take the time to go buy or order a stack of them, plus envelopes and postage etc.) and 1.5 hours (at the $100 hourly rate, no less) to de-list the works (.5), edit the standard form versions of any necessary permissions/licensing docs to change publisher name to author name (.5, assuming a LOT of licensing agreements, when in fact I’d think they would primarily be required for cover art/design and MAYBE for interior layout), bundling the files and sending them over (.5), plus .5 hours for potential tech difficulties, that’s still just $250 bucks. *skeptical shrug*

No matter what they call it, charging $500 for this looks more like an inflation of fees, in order to disincentivize authors from ending the contract, by erecting a barrier to access to files they’ve already paid for. I mean, it’s not like indie authors are rolling in money, and $500 is a big chunk of change, particularly after the thousands spent to get the book published in the first place. Maybe I’m wrong–maybe it’s actually a slow, painstaking five to ten hour process, but as a publisher for my own work, in thinking over the logistics of the process, I cannot help but feel skeptical.

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